London in Brexit Time

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Watching the latest Brexit vote on BBC in my hotel room.

The countdown is underway. March 29 is the drop-dead date. If the British Parliament does not approve Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal then the UK will leave the European Union without an agreement and this is likely to result in chaos in trade and travel. Most of the people I talked to shared that they feel that the uncertainty is already costing their economy and that they expect more of a bill to come due (and that the average person will pay it–not the politicians or the wealthy). I arrived in London on March 12th and watched the Parliamentary debate as covered on the BBC on my hotel room television.

The motion to pass the Conservative Prime Minister May’s negotiated principles for political divorce went down in flames–another historic losing vote. No one seems able to explain why Theresa May hasn’t lost her job yet.

IMG_7086Later in the week, I anxiously listened to the March 18th podcast Talking Politics. “Can this go on?” was the title and Cambridge professors David Runciman and Helen Thompson are bewildered. They made references to the English Civil War and joked at the end that all that is left is the Queen intervening.

A day or two later I discovered the FiveThirtyEight political podcast from March 15 focused on Brexit. Galen Druke interviewed David Runciman and Helen Thompson. It was helpful to have Druke’s questions to unpack some of the nuances. At that time Runciman gave May a 50-50 chance of getting her deal passed. At that time they thought the next steps would be for the Prime Minister to bring a clear choice in two votes to the Parliament on March 19. Things continue to evolve including the EU ministers expressing that the only way the UK can have an extension for an orderly exit is if the Parliament approves the negotiated deal. You can get up to the minute information on the BBC website.

You might wonder why an American should care so much about Brexit. Partly because I have friends in the UK who will be impacted. And because the United States is inexplicably still connected to Britain. In 2016 the UK voted for Brexit and the US electoral college gave Trump the nod. It feels like much of a muchness. We are both struggling with how we maintain a functioning democracy in the social media age and with growing economic inequality and insecurity due to climate change.

I’m praying for us all. May cooler heads prevail and may people dig deep for the kind of leadership needed at this pivotal moment in history.

Titanic Quarter Belfast

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The Titanic Quarter in Belfast Harbour

We planned our Ireland trip around two nodes: Belfast and Dublin. We drove from the Dublin Airport to Derry, Bushmills and the Giants Causeway, ending our first day in downtown Belfast. One of main purposes was to connect in person with our friends we made when volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, Northern Ireland. This left almost a full day free to explore Belfast. I decided to check out the new-to-me Titanic Quarter.

This area of Belfast, named after the shipbuilder Harland and Wolff’s most famous ship, has been completely revitalized since my last visit. It is 185 acres within the Belfast Harbour. A Dublin based developer has built a combination of docklands, office buildings, retail, entertainment, movie studio, Titanic Museum and Titanic hotel.

I was getting peckish by the time I reached a cafe called The Dock. I walked through the door and felt like I fell into a delightful alternate universe. The decor was bright and spacious and welcoming. A sign explained that it was a “pay what you can afford” cafe. They had limited offerings for lunch and tea breaks, but lots of friendly volunteers. First I had a cup of tea and wrote in my journal, then I went back for a bowl of soup and a bun. The other diners were a combination of young people from the nearby office blocks, backpackers and oddments like me.

An older woman asked if she could share my table. She was from Enniskillen but had just returned from Kansas City, Missouri. She joined her daughter–who converted to evangelical Christianity whilst in Oxford–for a conference. It happened to be while the hearings for Judge Kavanaugh were playing 24-7 on cable news. Apparently she was watching FOX, because she thought he was a victim of the most awful treatment by the media and Democrats. Her final indictment: “Why didn’t Dr. Blasey Ford report it at the time? I don’t believe it happened.” I listened until she was done and then I asked if I could share my perspective. I explained that I was the same age as Kavanaugh and that I’d had similar experiences to Christine Blasey Ford. I knew at the time that there was no point in reporting it because I either wouldn’t be believed or my reputation would be harmed and there wouldn’t be any repercussions to the men involved. I asked if she knew what I meant and she nodded. I added that not all young men treated women this way, in fact most did not, but I knew young men like Kavanaugh. And based on his behavior in the hearings, I didn’t see why we should advance him to the highest court–the Supreme Court. She hadn’t thought of it that way. I was glad to have the chance to offer another perspective and I was tired out by the conversation.

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The Titanic Museum on the left and the Titanic hotel in the old Harland and Wolff headquarters on the right.

It was a short walk to the Titanic Museum. I will write more about this museum in a separate post.

Just beyond the museum is the movie studio where Game of Thrones is filmed. It is not open to visitors. The volunteer at the Dock that served me my tea said that sometimes the extras and others from the studio come in to dine at the Dock.

I had walked for several hours, so I grabbed a cab back to The Fitzwilliam Hotel. The vote in the British Parliament on Brexit was coming up. The local newspapers were full of the details and how it will impact Northern Ireland and the border with the Irish Republic. The cab driver explained the he didn’t vote in general elections as it was a waste of time. Half the representatives would be from the DUP (Protestant, never leave Britain party) and half would be Sinn Fein (Catholic, reunify with the Republic), and since Sinn Fein refused their seats in Parliament on principal, the cab driver felt he wasn’t represented. So he didn’t vote and I understood his frustration.

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I had just enough time to refresh and catch up with Tevis’ adventures before we joined our friends for dinner.

Peter and Tracy and their two adorable young boys have a comfortable life, but not a lavish lifestyle. We asked them about what they thought might happen with Brexit. They didn’t know, but they sounded as defeated as the cab driver. They thought the DUP, in their insistence to drive a hard-line and vote against Brexit, might actually hasten the party’s worst nightmare. People in Northern Ireland had voted to remain and now a hard Brexit might drive them to choose reunification over staying with Britain. This would likely make education, health, and housing more expensive. What had been an interesting and primarily intellectual discussion between Tevis and me, suddenly became real in terms of what it might mean to the hard-won and tenuous peace and the impacts to people and their everyday lives.